-Gambling Times Magazine
The Winner's Guide to Casino Gamblingby Edwin Silberstang
As the interest in gambling continues to proliferate in the United States, The Winner's Guide To Casino Gambling has been completely revised and updated to feature new games such as Caribbean Poker, Let It Ride, and video poker, as well as winning strategies for the classic games--blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, and keno. This handy reference guide also includes information on the new Las Vegas family atmosphere, the boom in riverboat gambling, and the emergence of Native American reservation casinos. In print for over 16 years, this book is the bible for both the professional gambler and the newcomer.
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Winner's Guide to Casino Gambling, The
THE CARNIVAL GAMES
THE FOLLOWING FOUR games, Three-Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker, Let It Ride, and Casino War, are called carnival games by casino executives and dealers, to differentiate them from the table games, such as blackjack, craps, baccarat, and roulette. The term carnival games conjures up images of games played on the midways of America, on the outer edge of traveling circuses and carnivals. I've interviewed a number of floormen, pit bosses, and dealers about the name. Some consider it pejorative; others told me it's just a descriptive term.
The four games dealt with here are games that were invented for the purpose of leasing or selling them to established casinos and other gambling venues. Three of them, Three-Card Poker, Let It Ride, and Casino War, are owned by Shuffle Master Gaming, a leader in this field. The other, Caribbean Stud Poker, is owned by Mikohn/DP Stud. The most popular of these games, as of this writing, is Three-Card Poker. With 1,065 tables devoted to it, it is one of the fastest growing of the carnival games. Next in popularity is Caribbean Stud Poker, with 600 tables. Let It Ride has over 560 tables, and Casino War just 51 tables, but it is included to show how an ordinary children's game can be developed into a casino game.
There are other carnival games vying for attention on the floors of casinos. Some have limited success; others fail or fade away. What the reader should know is thiswhen seeing a new exotic game with a name like Deuces Wild Hold 'Em or Wheel of Madness or any similar carnival game, the house advantage will surely be greater than the three table games we recommend playing: blackjack, craps, and baccarat, in that order.
At every gambling convention, inventors try to sell their concepts of games to the casino executives who attend. I've been to a few of these conventions and seen the oddest and strangest games, combining dice, pieces that move, hidden cards, all within one game. Needless to say, no one was interested.
The four games I'll cover will show the best strategies to play (with the exception of Casino War, in which there is no inherent strategical concept), the house edge, my recommendation of whether to play or not, and how much should be wagered, if any, on the chance of winning.
GAMBLING IN AMERICAAN OVERVIEW
AT ONE TIME, the only state in America where gambling was legal was Nevada. This situation remained in effect for many years, and although there was sporadic gambling in other jurisdictions, such as the draw poker clubs in California and lotteries in certain states, it wasn't until Atlantic City legalized gambling that Nevada had any competition in the way of full-fledged casinos offering games such as craps, blackjack, roulette, and baccarat, as well as slot machines.
One of the rationales for legalizing gambling in Atlantic City was to use the tax money engendered from gambling to improve the city. But that didn't happen. The millions of dollars spent in the casinos, or should I say, billions, didn't improve the city one whit. While the number of pleasure palaces of gambling rose, Atlantic City remained a festering slum. As it is today. The tourists go to the casinos and occasionally walk on the boardwalk, but they don't venture into Atlantic City proper.
Still, there were mighty revenues that could be taxed by the municipality, and other jurisdictions took note of the frantic pace of building and the millions of tourists who poured into the New Jersey resort. After all, the leaders of these states and cities argued, everyone likes to gamble, and they do gamble illegally. So why not legalize it and cash in on these millions of dollars? The floodgate was opened, and gambling, which in puritan America had remained a hidden and illegal vice, was now thrust into the open in state afterstate. The money it poured into state and municipal coffers was used for a variety of causes, including education. With that rationalization, the state governments could pat themselves on their backs and overlook the fact that these millions of dollars were dollars lost to the casinos or to lotteries or whatever gambling was legalized. Someone was paying for all this, and it was the general public who patronized the casinos or bought lottery tickets, or sat down to a game of cards at a legalized card club.
Let us therefore divide this chapter into five sections dealing with the burgeoning world of American gambling. First, the status of gambling in general. Second, the state lotteries. Third, the American Indian reservation gambling. Fourth, riverboat gambling. Finally, the changing character of Las Vegas itself.
GAMBLING IN GENERAL IN AMERICA
At the present time, there is some form of gambling, whether it be lotteries, Indian reservation gaming, riverboats or card clubs, or straight casino gambling, in forty-eight of the fifty states. Perhaps all the states eventually will have gambling; all signs point to this happening. What at one time caused moral indignation is now commonplace. People are willing to wager money on some form of gaming, and the states and municipalities, hungry and desperate for infusions of tax money, are willing to provide their citizens with the opportunity.
Nevada is still the leading state as far as gaming is concerned. You can wager on anything here, but the state doesn't have a lottery. It doesn't need one. Games such as Quartermania and Megabucks provide the players with opportunities to make millions by risking several coins or dollars.
Atlantic City, New Jersey, when it first legalized gambling, was thought of as a serious competitor to Nevada, especially Las Vegas, but since gambling has been introduced in the Garden State, Nevada has experienced an explosive growth in gaming. Atlantic City is an example of a community that hasn't benefited at all from gambling. The influx of customers has merely lined the pockets of the casino owners who put up sumptuous palaces to attract them.Still, more casinos are going up, and business continues to increase in A.C. A lot of jobs have been created, but the city is still a slum, and the tourists stay in the hotels or venture along the boardwalk, and that is it.
There are a dozen casinos in Atlantic City, and the most recent is the Borgata, which is a joint venture between MGM Mirage and Boyd Gaming. Since opening in July 2003, this 200,000-square-foot hotel and casino has had a dramatic effect on the revenues generated by all the A.C. properties. For example, in February 2003, gaming revenues were up 30.1 percent from a year earlier, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
The comparison between the gambling revenues of Atlantic City and the Las Vegas Strip is quite interesting in showing how these two markets compete closely for the gamblers' dollars. The following is a rundown of those revenues.
Note how closely the revenues are between these two major gambling markets. As measured in the billions of dollars, it points out the insatiable interest in gambling among Americans, a phenomenon that is reflected throughout the country as more and more gambling venues open up, while those already in existence continue to expand. Revenues have been stagnant for the 2001-2003 period due primarily to the effects of 9/11 but have picked up since then. A new hotelSteve Wynn's Las Vegasand the expansion of several Strip hotels will surely increase that revenue. The Borgata's success may spawn other hotel construction in the A.C. market.
Mississippi, with its liberal riverboat laws, has moved into prominence in American gambling. It now ranks third in revenues, an amazing situation for a conservative, rural, and Bible Belt state. Tunica, once the poorest county in America, now boasts nine hugecasinos. Vicksburg has four, Natchez one, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast has, as of this writing, twelve.
Mississippi's neighbor to the west, Louisiana, permits gambling in Baton Rouge, Charenton, Harvey, Kenner, Kinder, Lake Charles, Marksville, New Orleans, and Shreveport-Bossier City. Among other southern states, both North and South Carolina have limited gambling venues. The signs are therethe sunny South will eventually be a hotbed of gambling.
In the heartland of America, other states along the Mississippi and Great Lakes have jumped into riverboat gaming with both feet, such as Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois, with others ready to take up gaming's cause. The future will have more and more states ready for casino gambling in a big way.
Washington State and Colorado haven't been shy about making various forms of gambling available. Montana has legalized certain table games. A backwater like Deadwood, South Dakota, has brought itself national attention by legalizing gambling and, in the process, pushed real estate values to the sky in that small, isolated community. Gambling does that. Towns magically rise up when gambling becomes big business. A good example of this is in Laughlin, Nevada, where Mr. Laughlin named a city after himself and built a casino on the Colorado River. In the space of a few years, this has become one of the meccas of gambling in Nevada.
Indian reservation gaming, emboldened by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, has been involved in an explosion of gaming. A successful operation such as Foxwoods in Connecticut is spawning other casinos in the Nutmeg State, with Greenwich the next possibility. State legislatures are falling all over themselves to get on the gaming bandwagon.
Usually, a referendum is needed to legalize gaming. It can be done statewide, as in Florida, or county by county, as in Mississippi. New York, which for years flirted with legalized gaming in Sullivan County, may now allow gaming in the empty shells of hotels in Monticello, New York, which once was a resort hub.
In the last edition of this book, I wrote that the big cities of America were ripe for legalized gambling. And this certainly has come to pass. In Illinois, Isle of Capri Casinos have been given the green light by the Illinois Gaming Board to build a huge gambling facility in Rosemont, which is just west of Chicago and near O'HareInternational Airport. This property is expected to generate $2.6 billion in revenue over its first five years. This will be the tenth casino to operate in Illinois. Only Illinois's heavy gambling tax has discouraged other casinos from being built.
In Michigan, there are several casinos in and about Detroit. In other states, casinos are found in New Orleans, near Phoenix, and close to San Diego. The list goes on and on. The push remains to legalize gaming in major cities, which can easily support new casinos with their tremendous population centers. The momentum keeps building, and the irresistible lure of gaming will win the hearts of legislators and citizens in more and more communities.
It is not only the casinos that benefit from legalized gaming. A whole support industry has sprung up to feed their insatiable needs. Riverboat design and manufacture, once a moribund industry that had seen its best days in the nineteenth century, is now alive and perking. Manufacturers of equipment such as electronic games are also benefitting, the two leaders being International Game Technology and Bally Gaming, a division of Alliance Gaming.
Surveillance equipment manufacturers, change-maker manufacturers, interior designers, lighting and carpeting specialists, card manufacturers, dice and chip manufacturers, are all grabbing a piece of the pie. And let's not forget the makers of roulette wheels and craps and blackjack tables. At the gaming conventions in Las Vegas, we see a whole corporate structure offering its goods and services. They realize that this is an explosive growth industry just waiting to take off.
Whole industries have sprung up or been invented to feed the casinos. And then there are the employees of the casinos, thousands and thousands of them, getting jobs that previously didn't exist. Dealers, change persons, cocktail waitresses, waiters, busboys, floor-persons, pit bosses, hotel clerks, maids, and dozens of other job categories are there to service gamblers while they play or rest. The list goes on and on.
What is obvious is the fact that people want to gamble. No one has to throw a net out to pull in playersthey are there clogging the casino aisles. When the first casino, Resorts International, opened in Atlantic City, there were huge lines of gamblers waiting to get in, then waits of an hour or more to get to the tables. Players came in droves and couldn't wait to get their money on the tables. As theriverboat operators have found out, their customers will pay for the right to gamble on a cruise. If there was no gambling on these riverboats, who would go on them but for a few tourists wishing to look at scenery on the Mississippi? It is the same question one can ask about racetracks. Who would pay admission to watch horses run ten races if no betting was allowed? The crowd would probably number about a hundred, most of them owners of horses.
Legislators also realize that the taxes they take in from gaming is a hidden revenue. People who lose don't think of their money going toward taxes. They win or they lose. But tax these same individuals for purchases they make at the grocery store and there'd be hell to pay. After all, the solons state, the citizens want to gamble, and we're simply providing the means. Nobody gets hurt, and everybody benefits. As gambling fever spreads in America, the crowds get bigger and bigger, and the casinos grander and grander. It's the new American growth industry, and it will continue to grow and grow.
When I write about gaming revenue, the figures I use are in the hundreds of millions and even billions. Where is that money coming from? It's coming from the people who go to casinos to gamble. It is their losses. This money, the states suggest, goes to good causes because a small percentage is used by various states to pay for services such as education and roads. But the money lost goes mostly to the casinos and to the industries gambling supports. And it is money that the citizens frequenting the casinos can ill afford to lose. They get nothing for the cash they leave there. Casinos are not department stores where at least the purchaser, in turning over his hard-earned cash, gets something to take homea garment, furniture, something. Losers at gambling leave with nothing to show for their losses except headaches and a bad taste in their mouths.
What I suggest is that this new horde of unsophisticated gamblers learns to play correctly, that they not go into a casino figuring that they will lose money. We want them to go in and play with a winning attitude. Each game has certain odds built into it, and gamblers should learn the correct odds, which games to avoid and which to play, and how to make the best bets. Gambling, after all, is done with real money, and real money is lost. What I attempt to do in this book is protect players by showing them how to gamble in a sane and knowledgeable manner, so that they become winners. There isan enormous choice out there, and many temptations. I want my readers to end up as winners.
At one time in America, lotteries were rampant in all the big cities where the Mafia held sway. The lotteries were known as the "Italian Lottery" or given other names, such as the "numbers racket." They were particularly popular among the poorest sections of the population, African Americans and the working poor, for the lottery promised a big jolt of money for a minuscule investment-as little as a nickel. The payoff for the lotteries was generally 500-1. In order to win, a player had to pick three numbers out of 999. If the number came up, you got paid 500-1. On any given day, you could play the lottery. Let's assume you picked 764. The odds against this number coming up were 999-1, because the number 000 was a live one as well. You got 500-1 if you won. This meant that the operator of the lottery was working close to a 50 percent profit margin.
How did you know if you had a winner? Many of the lotteries were tied to a series of numbers. For example, if there was a racetrack nearby whose total tote or complete betting revenue was listed in a newspaper, then the last three digits of that revenue was the number for the day. Let's assume that Belmont track in Elmont, New York, was in operation. And let's assume that at the end of the eight or nine races in those days the total tote shown after the last race was the complete monies bet that day and was $2,544,701. Then 701 was the number for that day, and anyone betting it would win 500-1.
These lotteries ran deep into the hearts of the various poorer communities. They not only gave the occasional winner some quick money, but supported a whole network of working poor-people who were runners, and those who worked in offices run by the local syndicate, which was eventually beholden to the Italian Mafia. It was a sweet deal for the Mafia. Their profit margin was immense, and as long as all kinds of numbers were bet, they stood to make a gigantic profit. They would sweat out certain days such as July 4, when a lot of people patriotically bet 776 as in 1776, but other than those situations, the money poured in. As talk in thestate capitals turned to legalized lotteries, the Mafia saw their income threatened.
Eventually, the states began their own lottery systems. These weren't the nickel-and-dime operations of the illegal syndicates; no longer could you bet just five or ten cents as in the old days. Inflation and the very pragmatic considerations of income forbade that. The minimum bet was $1, and payoffs of more than 500-1 were promised. Now that dollar ticket could win a lucky holder millions of dollars. And no longer did he or she have to select just three numbersthe new norm was six numbers. Pick all six and win the big jackpot, which could be upward of $10 million! Now we were talking big bucks.
To make sure that everyone could make a bet, the lottery commissions didn't limit the lottery to just a pick of six numbers out of forty-nine or more possibilities. They allowed pick 3s, with the old Mafia 500-1 payout. They also had pick 5s and all kinds of daily picks. Anything to fill the coffers and get the money out of the hands of the taxpayers, or perhaps the nontaxpayers, for these lotteries were attracting people who were willing to part with their money at horrendous odds in the hope of getting a big payout. The poor were once more heavily involved, and state government leaders told the public in self-aggrandizing ways that the new lotteries were there to promote education because after all the expenses were deducted, the money left over would improve the schools in the state.
Not only was there a lottery involving three, four, five, or six numbers but there were also scratch-off tickets. And you didn't need to read the paper or watch television to see if you had won you just scratched off the numbers and presto, you won or lost. You could win up to $10,000 on these scratch-offs instantly. Most of the time, you lost, or if you won, your win was $1 or a free ticket. But like all gambling, the sense of the unknown possibilities was enticing. The numbers or whatever you scratched off on your next ticket could be the big winner. I recall going to a party at a millionaire's house in the Malibu Colony of Los Angeles, and after the food and the wine and the music, he gave each of the hundred or so guests ten scratch-off tickets as a farewell gift. We all got busy scratching away to see what lay under the print and the paint to see what we had won. I was one of the lucky ones. I won $1. Of the thousand tickets scratched by the guests, the total winnings were $180, including twelve tickets that gave the recipients a free ticket.
At that party there were people in the movie business, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, and it was amazing to me to see the rapacity of their efforts to produce a winner by scratching the tickets. Yes, gambling has a hold on people. The possibility of a big score enticed them, though I'm sure that only one or two would ever bother to buy scratch-off tickets. But imagine all the poor laborers who buy five of these tickets daily. After a year, a lot of money that should have gone toward the rent, or toward food or clothing for their kids, has gone down the drain.
Lotteries, however, are here to stay. A great many states have them, and each year more and more come on board. The states are starved for revenue, and lotteries are their quickest source of money. If legislators raise taxes, they run the risk of being voted out of office, but if they introduce a lottery and mumble something about improving education, they're heroes.
As of this date, close to forty states have lotteries, plus Washington, D.C., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Although some states, such as California, have individual lotteries, many states belong to consortiums that feature super jackpots formed by Power Ball or Mega Millions plays. Twenty-six states plus the Virgin Islands feature the power ball, an extra pick that makes it extremely difficult to choose all the lottery numbers correctly. Power ball jackpots have sometimes paid off in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Mega Millions lottery has ten states involvedGeorgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington. Recently a lucky player won $239 million, which was the second biggest Mega Millions jackpot since its existence.
Three statesVirginia, Georgia, and Kentuckyhave recently installed a multistate game called Lotto South. The reason for these multistate alliances is to make the playing of lotteries more exciting and enticing to the citizens, for they lead to humungous payouts. "Lottery fever" grips the players, and the jackpots and winners push their way to the front pages of newspapers. Nothing else is spoken about, and the favorite conversation of those who bought tickets is what they're going to do with the millions they'll win. Of course, all but a few are losers, but the jackpot builds itself up again, and once more everyone is in the grip of that dream payout.
In California, six numbers have to be picked correctly, five plus a"mega" number, which can duplicate one of the other five selections. There are smaller prizes, about $1,800 for picking five correctly, and it goes down rapidly from there, to $5 for picking three numbers, with another small prize for choosing the mega number.
In California, the lottery is called Super Lotto and is played twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday evening at 8 P.M. If no one has the big winner, the jackpot escalates rapidly from about $7 million to $12 million to $20 million, then it rises like a shot to astronomical numbers as citizens of the Golden State catch "lotto fever."
Everybody gets involved, and people who wouldn't usually waste their money now start buying blocks of tickets. The poor can use up two weeks' salary praying and hoping for that big score$30 million! Paid over twenty years, that comes to $1.5 million a year or it can be taken in one lump payment, usually in the range of half the total jackpot. This is cut down by federal taxes, but there are no state taxes on the winnings.
Lotteries have become a part of the American landscape, and millions tune in to the results when they are announced on television. In California, some scratch-off prizes allow the winners to go to The Big Spin, where they spin a huge wheel to win prizes of $1 million or more. This is a regular half-hour program on channels throughout California.
Should you play the lottery? The big prizes, running into the millions of dollars, look awfully enticing, and of course, there are winners. But for the millions who buy lottery tickets in the hope of becoming millionaires, only a few, a handful, ever win. As one wit said succinctly, "You have the same chance of winning a lottery whether you play or don't." That sums up my feeling about lotteries.
As to scratch-offs for smaller prizes, and the daily picks of three or five numbers, the house, in this case, the state, takes as its cut about 50 percent of the revenues. It's a losing proposition for any player. It's like being at a blackjack table and betting $10, only to get back $5 for each win, while you take the full $10 loss. How long could you last before going broke? My best advice is to avoid any kind of state-run enterprise in gambling, such as lotteries, scratch-off tickets, or whatever other gimmicks they come up with. The losses add up. If you bet $10 a week on these various tickets, that's well over $500 you're going to lose in a year. You might ask, what about the wins? Well, what about them? An occasional $5 payoff or free tickets, or, if you're reallylucky, a $50 or $80 payout will still leave you a big loser at the end of whatever time period you decide to count as your lottery fiscal year. Be firm and avoid the temptations that these lotteries offer. Save your money for better things. If you want to play, then read the various sections and chapters in this book that tell you how to get an edge up on the casino, where you're the favorite, not the big underdog.
Tribal Reservation Gambling
As any casual student of American history knows, the Native Americans were given the shaft by the colonizers of the United States. The government broke practically every treaty it made with the tribes that had inhabited this land for centuries and kept it in its pristine condition. Finally, the Indians were shunted about, with whole nations, such as the Cherokees, being moved from North Carolina to Oklahoma and settled there against their will, dumped on inhospitable land.
The same thing happened to the western tribes, such as the Navajos and the Apaches. They were set down in wretched reservations where no one else wanted to live, in the arid plains and deserts of Western America. The Native Americans became second-class citizens, prone to disease, alcoholism, and extreme poverty. They were separate from American society, with their own laws and police. In many ways they ruled themselves and were not subject to the laws of the state or nation in which they lived. For decades these rules worked against them; they were left to their own devices, scratching out an existence on the godforsaken lands they occupied.
Then, in 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which legalized gaming on Native American-owned land. Suddenly, Native Americans' apartness had a monetary value. They weren't subject to the gambling restrictions the states imposed on their ordinary citizens. They could have gambling on their lands and reservations and entice the same citizens who ordinarily avoided them into parting with their monies. All they had to do was open up their lands to gambling enterprises. And this the Native Americans have done with a vengeance.
It is estimated that six hundred gambling venues are operated by Native Americans. The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) is the government agency supervising Native Americangaming. Three types of licenses are issued for gaming purposes, Class I, Class II, and Class III. Class I licenses permit bingo only, which is now played not only with paper but with electronic devices. Class II licenses allow, in addition to bingo, electronic games and low-limit poker. Class III licenses permit Vegas-type gambling, including all games permitted by Class II facilities, plus table games such as blackjack and craps.
Tribes with Class I licenses have exclusive jurisdiction of the gambling facility. Class II gaming is regulated by the tribe and the NIGC. Class III casinos must enter into Tribal-State compacts, which, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, requires that the state and the tribes negotiate a "compact" agreement that defines the kinds of games that might be played at the tribal casinos. It also defines the "regulatory role of the state." In a state like Minnesota, where the only casino gambling permitted is on tribal lands, these rules are of particular importance.
Class II gambling can be found in Florida, where the Seminole Indians have entered into a partnership with the Hard Rock Café, a subsidiary of the Rank Organization of Britain, to open two casinos in the Sunshine State, one in Tampa and the other in Hollywood. With huge populations nearby, they should be quite successful financially, even though a Class III license would make them much more profitable.
As to Class I licenses, a bingo operation on tribal lands is not necessarily what players think of when they remember bingo games in church halls or other small facilities. Now players use electronic handheld devices and pull tabs to keep track of the numbers called. Pechanga Casino in Temecula, California, has more than eight hundred seats, and their bingo operation features electronic devices and pull tabs. The Potawatomi Bingo and Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has sixteen hundred seats and features electronic bingo and pull tabs. Turning Stone Bingo and Casino in Verona, New York, has close to fourteen hundred seats and also features electronic and pull tab bingo.
The building of casinos on tribal lands goes on and on, depending upon the state the lands are in, and the willingness of the legislature in that particular state to permit Class III gaming.
As a result of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Native Americans, once one of the most impoverished minorities inAmerica, now have some of the most affluent citizens. To give an examplein Connecticut, a small tribe, once thought to be extinct, owns the most profitable casino in the world, the Foxwoods High Stakes Bingo and Casino. They are the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.
This casino is located in Ledyard, Connecticut, and has more table games available to players than any other casino in America. It is constantly expanding its casino and adding hotel space for the thousands of visitors who come each year. The casino is about two hours from Boston, and has mostly a New England clientele, but gamblers also come from New York and other areas. It now has three hotels and 120,000 square feet of casino space. It is a monstrous operation, and a very profitable one. You can play craps, blackjack, video poker, roulette, slots, baccarat, keno, the big six wheel, chuck-a-luck, Caribbean poker, and Pai Gow poker, as well as many forms of ordinary poker.
You can't do this legally anywhere else in New England except at other tribal reservations. It's illegal according to the state laws. But Native Americans can open gambling casinos on land they own, and invite the public. The public hungers for gambling action and they flock to these casinos, especially the one the tiny tribe of Mashantucket Pequot Indians own.
For those who want to visit this unique casino, the rules are as follows on some table games: Double odds on craps, the dealer stands on all 17s and adheres to Las Vegas rules in blackjack. Eight decks are used. Roulette has a double zero like all American wheels, keno is played, and baccarat has a $6,000 limit. The casino is open twenty-four hours a day.
In Alabama, the one casino run by Native Americans is located in Atmore and has bingo only. This casino is owned by the Poarch Creek Indians. Just because only bingo is offered doesn't mean the games are played for peanuts. The Creek Bingo Palace has a $1 million jackpot on weekends.
A huge state like California has many tribal casinos in operation, running the length and breadth of the state. Most of them feature bingo, but some also offer poker, video poker, and table games. The Palace Indian Bingo Casino in Lemoore seats 1,300 players, while the San Manuel Indian Bingo Casino in Highland seats 2,700 players. These are big, profitable operations. In Colorado, the casinos run by Native Americans feature slot machines, video poker, blackjack,and keno, among other games. Iowa has slot machines, blackjack, roulette, craps, and big six available in its casinos in Onawa, Tama, and Sloan. These casinos are run by the Omaha, Mesquaki, and Winnebago Tribes of Iowa.
Minnesota is another hotbed of Native American gaming. There are more tribal casinos in this state than in California. Games offered in the various casinos include video poker, video blackjack, video craps, blackjack, slot machines, bingo, keno, and poker. One of the casinos, the Mystic Lake Casino, in Prior Lake, run by the Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe, has 2,300 slot machines and 125 blackjack tables. Slot machines are big business in tribal gaming in Minnesota. The Northern Lights Casino in Walker has 600 machines, while the Shooting Star Casino and Lodge in Mahnomen, owned by the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians, has 900 slot machines, in addition to thirty-six blackjack tables. This casino is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
New York has a number of tribal gaming casinos, but they are limited to bingo operations. However, a couple of them are huge operations. The Mohawk Bingo Palace in Hogansburg seats 2,500 players and is owned by the St. Regis Mohawk Nation. The Seneca Bingo/Irving Casino in Irving seats 2,000 players. It is owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians.
North Dakota, a state in which several treaties were broken by the U.S. government, has several casinos around the state. They are rather small operations, with small limits, though the Turtle Mountain Casino, which consists of three separate enterprises in Belcourt, has a bingo room seating seven hundred players, as well as slot machines, poker and keno machines, and blackjack tables, and something called Indian dice games. It is owned and managed by the Turtle Mountain Tribe.
In Oklahoma, the transplanted Cherokee Nation owns and manages a casino in Catoosa. It is called the Cherokee Nation Bingo Outpost and seats fourteen hundred players for bingo alone. The Cherokees own and manage several other bingo operations in the state. Other tribes that own casinos featuring bingo include the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, the Checotah Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, the Creek Nation, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, the Kaw Nation ofOklahoma, the Kiowa Tribe, the Osage Tribe, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the Panca Tribe, the Pawnee Tribe, the Potawatomi Tribe of Oklahoma, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town.
I point out the various tribes involved in gaming to show just how many Native Americans have used this vehicle to bring in money and lift their people out of dire poverty. Many of the bingo palaces are both owned and operated by Native Americans, but when more complex gambling is allowed, outside managers are often called in. The managers are generally given a limited contract of about five years, though time periods and terms vary widely.
What is the future of Native American gaming? It is bright, according to insiders in the industry. Interest in gaming is on the increase throughout America and many states where gambling is opposed by various organizations and churches will look the other way when it takes place on tribal land. In most states, they have no alternative, for the reservations are governed and ruled by laws different from those for the general population. For a people long mired in poverty, decimated by disease and hardship, gambling is a godsend, a way to bring in large sums of money.
To find out more about Indian gaming, a North American Tribal Gaming Directory is published out of Prior Lake, Minnesota. The toll-free number is 1-800-665-0037. It is published twice yearly, and lists all the tribal gaming in the United States and Canada.
I suggest playing at the reservation casinos if they are convenient. Many are near interstate highways, and feature inexpensive food in good restaurants. They are generally well run and offer an honest game, whatever your game is. If you travel by car on long trips you're bound to see a sign advertising a nearby Native American casino.
For those of you who live near an Indian gaming establishment, you can call the casino and find out what games are offered, the hours of operation, and so forth. If there's a game that you'd like to play, the host will gladly tell you the betting limits and rules. Visit the casino and check it out. I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised. My feeling is that in the near future other megacasinos on the order of the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut will spring up. Gambling has a bright future in America, and Native American gaming holds a key place in that future.
In the old black-and-white Hollywood movies, the riverboat gambler was a stock character. He sat, dressed to the nines, smoking a cigar and keeping his cards close to his fancy vest. He was a legendary sort of gambler, often honest, at times not so honest, ready to start a fistfight or gunfight if crossed. These riverboat gamblers plied their trade on the Mississippi, the "father of waters," one of the few rivers in America able to accommodate the really big riverboats.
Today, riverboat gamblers are back. But they're not those fancy dudes all dressed up; they're ordinary people seeking some action on the riverboats along the Mississippi, the Ohio, or other great rivers of America. Riverboats now ply the Great Lakes and other large midwestern lakes. However, not all of these boats travel somewhere. A good number are permanently docked, glamorous vessels running in place. They're like the Queen Mary at Long Beach, California, going nowhere, but looking very impressive all the same.
Riverboat design changes from state to state, depending on local laws, as does riverboat gaming itself. For example, in Mississippi, gaming is not permitted on a moving boat; therefore, the riverboats in that state must remain dockside if gambling is to be allowed. On the other hand, in Louisiana, gaming is not permitted dockside on riverboats, so the boats must be seaworthy. And so it goes from state to state.
The riverboat industry is a dynamic one, with boats constantly being put into service, while others are subject to losses and go out of business. Eventually, the riverboats will reach a saturation point, competing for a limited number of gamblers in a limited number of towns. Another factor that may slow their growth is the push for legalized gambling in various big cities in America. For example, if legalized gambling comes to Chicago, it will surely have a negative impact on the riverboats that ply their trade in that state. The same holds true for the other big cities that line the Mississippi River.
Let's now look at the riverboat scene along the mighty river and other great water regions of the Midwest. We'll start in the north and work our way down to the delta region of Louisiana, where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
With the enactment of the Riverboat Gambling Act in 1990, the newly created Illinois Gaming Board was empowered to issue a total of ten riverboat gaming licenses. Each licensee was entitled to own and operate two riverboats in a single approved site. At the outset, each riverboat was required to have cruise schedules, but legislation enacted in 1999 ended that requirement. Riverboats can now dock permanently.
The tenth and final license was issued in 1994 to Emerald Casino, Inc., whose casino, the Silver Eagle in East Dubuque, failed. In 1999 new legislation lifted a prohibition against gambling in Cook County, where Chicago is located, and recently the Isle of Capri Casinos were permitted to build a casino in Rosemont, near O'Hare Airport.
The first riverboat to open in Illinois waters was the Alton Belle, which began its existence in 1991. It was replaced a couple of years later by the Alton Belle II. The boat can accommodate thirteen hundred passengers, and has slot, video poker, and electronic keno machines. It also has a number of table games, including blackjack, craps, and roulette. The dockside facilities are at Alton and while they include some good restaurants, there are no sleeping quarters on the boat.
Hollywood Casino runs two riverboat casinos, known as City of Lights I and City of Lights II, out of Aurora, which is located less than forty miles west of Chicago. Each of the boats can hold six hundred players, and offers table games in addition to slot and video games.
Other Illinois boats are docked at East Dubuque, East Aurora, Rock Island, East Peoria, Metropolis, Joliet, East St. Louis, and Elgin. On any of the boats in these towns and cities, expect to find slots and video games as well as table games.
Iowa was the first state to legalize riverboat gambling, in April 1991, and in that same year the first boat was ready for business. With the law came restrictions on wagering. Bets were limited to $5,and a loss limit of $200 per player was imposed. In this conservative state, the citizens didn't want gambling to get out of hand. However, with these restrictions, Iowa quickly lost revenue to the neighboring state of Illinois. In 1994, the restrictions were finally lifted.
All riverboats are allowed to remain open twenty-four hours a day, and are only required to cruise for one hundred days between the months of April and October. The cruise schedules vary according to the demands of the local market. Iowa has ten riverboat casinos, the last being opened in Osceola in January 2000.
The President Riverboat Casino has been advertised as the biggest cruising riverboat casino in the world, but this claim has also been made by other riverboat operators. The President is located in Dubuque and, like other riverboats in Iowa, it offers slots, video machines, poker, and table games. There are also riverboats located in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Bettendorf, Marquette, and other locations.
Indiana approved riverboat gambling in 1993, under the auspices of a seven-man Commission, and gambling began in the Hoosier State in 1996. All of the permitted ten riverboat licenses have been granted. Among the riverboats doing business in Indiana are the Argosy Casino, Belterra Casino & Resort, Harrah's East Chicago, and Trump Indiana. The riverboats were required to cruise a certain number of hours annually, but recent legislation allows them to eliminate these cruises and to dock permanently, as is the case in Illinois.
Since the Mississippi does not run through Indiana, the riverboats are on various lakes and rivers in the state. Table games, as well as slot and video machines, are featured on these riverboats. There are no state-imposed limitations on betting or losses.
The Show Me State first introduced gambling on riverboats in 1993, but soon afterward the Missouri Supreme Court differentiated between games of skill, such as poker and blackjack, and games of pure chance, such as roulette and craps. It decided that games of skillwould be allowed, but games of chance were outlawed on the riverboats. Since then the matter has been resolved. Games of skill as well as games of chance are allowed on all riverboats operating in the state of Missouri at this time.
Two great rivers run through Missouri, the Mississippi and the Missouri, and all riverboats are on one or the other. The law permits a riverboat casino to operate either at dockside or while cruising, and some of them cruise while others remain stationary. All feature table games as well as slots and other electronic devices. The state imposes a tax on admissions; some riverboats charge a minimum of $2 while others charge a greater amount, and still others waive the fee and absorb the tax themselves. Check beforehand if free admission is important to you.
One final note: While there is no betting limit on any of the riverboats, a $500 loss limit per excursion is enforced. An excursion means either a cruise or a simulated excursion on a boat that remains dockside.
Here's how the loss limit works. Gamblers can only buy up to $500 in tokens or chips per gaming session. At two-hour intervals, which usually begin at 8 A.M., patrons are permitted to make purchases of chips that don't exceed $500. If that money is lost, the gambler must wait until the next gambling session to replenish his supply. These purchases are monitored by the use of slots cards that are provided to all customers when they board the boat. Whether used in the machines or to purchase chips or tokens, these cards are scanned electronically.
There is no limit on the number of casino licenses the state may issue. Among the riverboats that are in operation, most are located near or in Missouri's largest cities, St. Louis and Kansas City. In St. Louis, Harrah's St. Louis and President Casino-St. Louis are open for business. In Kansas City, there is the Ameristar Casino Hotel, Kansas City, Argosy Casino, Harrah's North Kansas City Casino, and Hotel and Isle of Capri Casino, Kansas City. The Harrah's casino in North Kansas City, a few miles from downtown Kansas City, remains dockside and contains well over a thousand slots and video poker and other electronic machines, in addition to more than fifty table games.
Other riverboat casinos are located in Caruthersville, LaGrange, St. Joseph, and Boonville.
Of all the states permitting riverboat gaming, Mississippi would have to be considered the most liberal as far as its gaming laws are concerned. Whereas other states require a certain seaworthiness for riverboats, as well as certain designs, Mississippi will allow any boat, no matter what kind and what designeven a barge will do. All the boats, however, must stay dockside. In effect, what you have in Mississippi are huge casinos in the water, tethered to docks. To all intents and purposes, these casinos might just as well be built on the land. Why this restriction?
For one thing, Mississippi is a Bible Belt state, with a strong aversion to gambling. So, by having dockside gaming, the citizens can rest with clear consciences, knowing there is no gambling on the land itself. And Mississippi is a very poor state. Gambling brings in a ton of money, and probably at this time is responsible for a substantial part of the state's tourist industry.
There are two other restrictions. Riverboat gaming is allowed only in the eight counties along the Gulf Coast or the Mississippi River, and voters had to approve a referendum in those counties before gambling was permitted. Other states have been careful to limit the number of riverboats allowed in their waters, but Mississippi has no such restriction.
The eight counties that can have riverboat gaming include Tunica, the most northerly on the Mississippi and closest to the large population center of Memphis, Tennessee. South of Tunica is Coahoma County, then Washington County, which includes the city of Greenville. Warren County is the home of Vicksburg, remembered by Civil War buffs for its siege by General Grant. The next Mississippi county is Adams, containing the city of Natchez. Neshoba County, somewhat rural even by Mississippi standards, is eligible for gaming, but no riverboats are presently situated in its confines.
Then there are two Gulf Coast counties. Harrison County holds two cities, Biloxi and Gulfport, while Hancock County has two smaller communities, Bay St. Louis and Lake Shore. Lake Shore is basically a name at the end of a road leading to coastal waters.
Let's start with Tunica in our look at riverboat gaming in Mississippi. Tunica County had the distinction, three years before gaming was introduced to Mississippi, of being the most impoverished county in the nation. It was basically a dirt-poor rural region. But not anymore. There are now seven riverboats in the county, some owned by the biggest names in gaming. When I speak of riverboats, I am using the term rather loosely. These boats aren't built to go anywhere. They are floating palaces meant for gambling alone. What they do primarily is feed the state of Mississippi 8 percent of their gross revenues, which is defined as all money wagered less payouts. Four percent of their gross revenues go to the local cities and counties. The casinos are open twenty-four hours a day and, since first opening in 1992, have taken in a fortune. By 1994 their gross revenue was about $1.66 billion. This climbed to $2.8 billion in 2003, and the estimate for 2004 is $3.0 billion.
Within Tunica County, we have several areas with gaming casinos. In Buck Lake, there's the Grand Casino, which is now owned by Caesars. A little to the south is Binion's Horseshoe, now owned by Harrah's. The Polk's Landing holds Fitzgeralds, and Commerce Landing holds Sam's Town Hotel and Casino. Then there is the Hollywood Casino, and in Casino Center near Robinsonville, Bally's, now owned by Caesars, has moved its casino from Mhoon Landing, which no longer holds any casinos. Some of these are tremendous enterprises. The former Circus Circus, now called the Gold Strike, has over 60,000 square feet of gaming space, including close to fifteen hundred slot machines and over fifty table games. All the casinos in Tunica County offer slots, video poker, electronic as well as table games; some have poker tables. They are open twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, and have no admission charge.
In the town of Lula, the Isle of Capri is the only casino operating.
In the Greenville area, two casinos are in operation, Bayou Caddy's Jubilee and Lighthouse Point. Much of their business comesfrom neighboring states such as Arkansas, as well as places as far away as Oklahoma.
Vicksburg is the big attraction in Warren County; the sights to see there include the monuments erected by the states who lost their sons during the Civil War on the Vicksburg battlefield. Vicksburg has four casinos on the Mississippi River. The Ameristar, which is the largest, has top-notch entertainment in its 350-seat showroom. Other casinos are the Rainbow, the Isle of Capri, and Harrah's. All feature table games, as well as slots and electronic games such as video poker. All are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and as with all riverboats in Mississippi, there is no admission fee.
Adams County's main city is Natchez, home of the Isle of Capri casino. It is open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.
At the time of writing, there is no riverboat gaming in this county.
This ends our roundup of gaming along the Mississippi, and leaves us with the two Gulf Coast counties, Harrison and Hancock. Altogether, there are twelve riverboats in these coastal areas, forming the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Mississippi Gulf Coast
The following are the casinos in operation: Beau Rivage, Boomtown Biloxi, Casino Magic Bay St. Louis, Casino Magic Biloxi, Copa Casino, Grand Casino Biloxi, Grand Casino Gulfport, Imperial Palace, Isle of Capri, Palace Casino, President Casino, and Treasure Bay. As with all other casinos in Mississippi, these are open all the time, there is no admission charge, and the players can gamble at table or electronic games, such as slots and video poker.
The situation in Mississippi is quite dynamic, with many applications being made to open new casinos. Operators love the regulatory climate herethe casinos don't have to be seaworthy, which saves the enormous cost of outfitting them. The money spent bygamblers in Mississippi is awesome, as I pointed out, with a huge net win from these eager and unsophisticated gamblers.
While Mississippi didn't permit any of its casinos to cruise, Louisiana took the opposite tack. All of its riverboats had to be seaworthy, and none could stay dockside for gaming purposes. The riverboats were newly constructed rather than converted and had to be paddlewheelers at least 120 feet long, able to carry a minimum of six hundred people. And one other thing they had to be aesthetically pleasing, conforming to the historic designs of nineteenth-century riverboats. The laws relating to riverboats were passed by the state legislature in 1991. A separate law permitting a land-based casino in New Orleans was passed in 1992.
The Louisiana boats are set on a variety of waterways including lakes and rivers. There are no regulations concerning size of bets or loss limits, but the boats are limited to 30,000 square feet for gaming purposes. Table games, as well as slots, video poker, and other electronic games are offered to the players.
In April 2003, the state legislature changed the rules concerning these riverboats. Previous to this new law, the riverboats were forced to cruise and therefore were not open twenty-four hours a day. Now all the paddlewheelers remain dockside; there is no cruising and no admission fee to gamble. The following is a list of Louisiana riverboats and their home ports.
Baton RougeArgosy and Casino Rouge
KinderGrand Casino Coushatta
Lake CharlesIsle of Capri and Harrah's
MarksvilleParagon Casino Resort
New OrleansBally's Lakeshore and Harrah's
ShreveportBossier CityBoomtown, Harrah's, Hollywood, Horseshoe, and Isle of Capri
A Final Note on Riverboat Gambling
Gambling fever has certainly hit America. Who would have thought that a rural and poor state like Mississippi would develop into one of the gaming capitals of the United States? This was unthinkable up to the 1990s. Not only was it a poor state, but it is conservative, with strong ties to religious organizations. And yet there it is, a $30 billion industry.
Eventually, other big cities along the great rivers and lakes of America will get into the gambling act. Laws are constantly being introduced in state legislatures, and referendums are being prepared for voters in several states. Alabama is considering riverboat gambling, and Missouri, which permits it, is in the process of easing its laws regarding loss limits because the riverboat operators complain they are both onerous and unenforceable.
Eventually, riverboat gaming will reach a saturation point, but that point is still far off. It will be interesting to see just how legalized gaming will spread from the heartland and southern delta regions of America to other areas, as states scramble for the easy revenue. Easy for them, but someone is losing money. That's why I suggest you read the appropriate sections of this book before going on any riverboat. Don't be one of the many losers; be knowledgeable, and use the information presented here to good purpose. Taking a cruise can be fun, but winning makes it even more so.
THE NEW LAS VEGAS ATMOSPHERE
On a recent evening in Las Vegas, I was walking along the Strip, with mobs of people around me, and I thought back to a time some twenty years before when I was walking on the same Las Vegas Boulevard, heading with a friend to the Desert Inn, or DI as it was known by Vegas insiders. At one time the hotel-casino was known as Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn and Country Club, but Wilbur Clark never owned the joint. It was allegedly owned by the Mayfield Road gang from Cleveland, and was the class place on the Strip in the 1950s, all the way up to the time Howard Hughes moved in and bought it.
We were headed for the Skyroom in the DI, which had a piano and small dancing area, where we'd meet women and friends and have a couple of drinks and relax. The Skyroom, once the highest spot on the entire Strip, was on the third floor. Later, the DI was completely remodeled into a multistoried building completely unlike the original structure. Now it is gone, demolished to make room for another of Steve Wynn's hotels. The places I would pass getting there also have been transformed or are gone. Gone are the Castaways and Silver Slipper, which my good friend Bill Friedman ran. The Stardust has been completely rebuilt from the bottom up, and the motel on the corner of Flamingo and the Strip has been demolished to make way for the Barbary Coast Casino. Farther down the Strip, looking north, the Sands is also gone, and off the Strip, the Landmark has been gone for a long time now. I could go on and on.
Las Vegas, which I remember as a small city with some gaming casinos, is now a city of over a million souls, and Clark County, in which it is located, is perennially on the list of fastest growing areas in the country. This is desert country, with water and electricity fed by the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, about thirty miles away. The climate is dry and it is an ideal place for retirees. There is no state income tax in Nevada, the food is cheap, the housing is very affordable, and there is always something to do. This is a true twenty-four-hour town.
At one time, men came here to gamble. They brought their wives or girlfriends, who would indulge in bingo or the slots while the men played craps or blackjack. Children were not permitted in casinos; Las Vegas, which thought of itself as a rather sinful city, simply didn't cater to families. Everything was geared for the serious gambler. All this has changed. Vegas is now welcoming families with open arms. Monstrous hotels have been built with the family trade in mind. Hotels that once used every available bit of space for gaming purposes now have video game rooms for the kidsthe welcome mat is out for them all.
Perhaps the first hotel to recognize the need for a family trade was Circus Circus. Kids had the run of a couple of floors there, which resembled those traveling sideshows that are the staple of small-town America. They could play games, toss balls, win prizes, keep amused. While they were kept busy, their parents were in the main casinogambling. And they were kept amused also by a constant circus. It was a heady situationwhile you were playing blackjack, trapeze artists were flying overhead. But then America has welcomed this kind of sideshow atmosphere with all its heart.
The years 2003-2004 have been landmarks in the consolidation and divestiture of casino properties. Circus Circus, which had been in the forefront of the gambling business long after it welcomed the kiddies, was bought by Mandalay Bay Resorts, along with the other properties Circus Circus once controlled at the southern end of the Strip, the Luxor and Excalibur. Now Mandalay Bay Resorts has been gobbled up by MGM Mirage, making it temporarily the largest holding of gaming property in America.
As of this writing, Harrah's has made a bid for Caesars, which will surely go through given the lax atmosphere toward consolidation and mega-mergers. Assuming it does go through, Harrah's will become the largest casino operation in the United States. These mergers give gamblers fewer and fewer options. If unfavorable rules are prevalent in acquiring companies, then surely the rules will be foisted on the acquired properties.
Previously, the Boyd Gaming Group had purchased Coast Casinos, followed by Harrah's takeover of all of the Horseshoe properties and names, though it sold Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas to MTR Gaming, while retaining the Horseshoe brand and its famous World Series of Poker. Finally, Caesars has divested itself of the Las Vegas Hilton, which had featured Elvis Presley as a headliner years before. The sale was made to Colony Resorts. Independent properties are now in the minority, especially on the Strip in Las Vegas.
The Excalibur is the ultimate in kitsch, with its pseudo-jousts and outlandish dealer costumes. Parapets in bright colors stand above the Strip welcoming the families of America. And they come. This is a very successful hotel, as is the Luxor, which is built in the shape of a pyramid, with a sphinx sitting moodily or happily, depending on the way you look at it, in front. The rooms are wonderful here, and the place is booked up all the time. Inside, there's a casino with a huge, empty space above it, leading to the top of the pyramid. You don't take elevators to your floor, you take an inclinator.
The atmosphere is ancient Egypt as seen by modern-day Vegas. There is an area for families with a city atmosphere, which is sort of incongruous in an ancient Egyptian setting. It contains fake buildingsabout ten stories high, and there is a big games room for the kids. You can even take a ride on the Nile, the Nile here being a waterway tour of the hotel and casino. The marveling tourists fill the boats up anyway.
Near these hotels stands the biggest of them all, the MGM Grand, a Kirk Kerkorian production, featuring a giant lion guarding the entrance. The outside is dark green, and looks rather good with its clean lines, next to the fake parapets of the Excalibur. Inside is the largest casino space in Las Vegas. The thousands of square feet contain the usual table games, slots, and electronic games, along with things for kids to do, like the Yellow Brick Walk of Dorothy in the Land of Oz and fake lightning storms. The quick food places are geared to kids' tastes. Just to walk the walk is an exhausting process, but sixty thousand people do it every day.
With these three new places stands an older hotel, the Tropicana, which has passed through various owners in its lifetime. Besides the jungle of slots in the casino, it features a walk during which you can see live exotic birds and animals on the way to your room. This hotel is also very big, with wings having been added on in all directions.
On this southern end of the Strip, these four colossi contain more hotel rooms than all of Los Angeles. And unlike the Los Angeles hotels, they are booked at about 95 percent of their capacity the year round. One of the strange things about the Las Vegas scene is this the more hotel rooms available, the more difficult it is to find one.
Further down the Strip, at the corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, stands Caesars Palace, whose namesake and owner, Caesars, also controls many casinos around the country. This hotel-casino has stood the test of time. It is constantly being updated and upgraded and has a concourse with a trompe l'oeil ceiling that changes according to the time outside. The hotel has a subdued and elegant atmosphere; within the walkway are fine and expensive shops and restaurants like Spago's. A show is put on near the entrance to the concourse that somehow attracts people. It has to do with laser ceilings and ugly statues babbling something about ancient Rome. Other than that, the place is very impressive.
Caesars attracts almost as many walkthroughs as the MGM Grand, but a great many high rollers come here as well. The casino is usually packed, while the MGM Grand, which is much bigger, has a relatively empty feeling. Opposite Caesars is the FlamingoHilton. When I first came to Vegas it was the Flamingo, Bugsy Siegel's brainchild, which mimicked the elegant atmosphere of a Monte Carlo Casino, with paneled walls and bountiful chandeliers. Now it has been completely renovated and expanded. The other giant in the area is Bally's Grand, formerly the MGM Grand. It is big and filled with slot machines, whereas the old casino had row upon row of table games like craps and blackjack.
On the fourth corner stood the Dunes, with its gigantic neon sign in front. It was blown up one fine evening to make way for Steve Wynn's brainchild, the Bellagio. This is one of the most sumptuous and elegant hotels in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn, who owned it as well as Treasure Island and the Mirage, sold them to MGM Grand, and a new corporation was formed, MGM Mirage. Another hotel, the Monte Carlo, was built nearby and is under the ownership of MGM Mirage.
The Mirage, which is located on the west side of the Strip, just north of Caesars Palace, is one of the most profitable hotel-casinos in Las Vegas. For many years it featured as its main attraction the Siegfried and Roy Tiger Magic show. However, Roy Horn, the Roy of the show, was recently dragged off the stage by one of the featured tigers in the show, and it looks as though this show is history.
The Mirage has a nice look about it, with a steamy atrium, an aquarium above the reservations desk, dolphins, a volcano that goes off at intervals during the evening, good restaurants and a fine buffet, and an extremely busy casino.
South of the Mirage is Treasure Island, another Wynn property, which stages outdoor pirate battles. Inside you are constantly greeted by fake pirate shouts, which gets annoying and distracting. In the end you simply wish for a little peace and quiet. This place, unlike the Mirage, which caters to the high rollers, is a family kind of hotel. The pirates, and the big game and video room for kids, are geared toward families.
Other hotels sprang up along the Strip in recent years, all with separate themes, such as the Venetian, with its gondolas and symbols of Venice; New York, New York, with its faux skyscrapers and Statue of Liberty; and Paris, Eiffel Tower and all. There is also the Mandalay Bay, at the southern tip of the Strip, an immense hotel with a gleaming golden facade.
So we have the Strip, a mélange of imitations of other cities andareas of the world, all catering to middle America, making Las Vegas Boulevard a must-see attraction for the tourists who swarm into the city by the millions each year.
Downtown Las Vegas is also changing, but not in the same radical fashion. Rather than new hotels, an enclosed pedestrian walkway along Fremont Street has been completed. People won't have to worry about the traffic or the elements, especially the bruising midday heat during spring and summer. The Horseshoe Club has now been bought by MTR Gaming and is managed by Harrah's. The Fremont is now owned by Boyd Gaming, which is famous for Sam's Town on Boulder Highway, a local hangout.
There is something else I should mention, even though it is not in Las Vegas proper. At one time, on their way to Vegas from Southern California, tired drivers encountered a couple of dumpy casinos at Stateline, the spot where California blends into the Silver State. They looked like the kinds of places where a few drunken cowboys might hang out. Now all this is changed. As you drive into Nevada, there are three hotels, all now owned by MGM Mirage, right at Stateline. One is Whiskey Pete's, the original big hotel there. The others are Primadonna and Buffalo Bill's. They do big business, and are always filled with cars and RVs.
Some ten miles or so down the road on the way to Las Vegas, in Jean, stand two other hotels, Nevada Landing and Gold Strike. These have been bought by Mandalay Bay. They stand in the middle of a barren desert, two oases for tired travelers. They are both big casinos, with cheap rooms and meals. Many people now never make it to Vegas, their ultimate destination being one of these hotel-casinos.
As I mentioned before, the anomaly about Las Vegas is that the more it gets built up, the more difficult it is to get a room. Twenty years ago, there were worries that Vegas was overbuilt; now, the casino and hotel space has at least quintupled, and the casinos are still full and making money. A phenomenon that may eventually work against all this building is the lure of the new and different. People are drawn to a new hotel-casino with an exciting or different theme, but this gets old in a hurry. Eventually, the building will stop and it will all sort itself out. The places that offer good rooms, good food, and attractive gambling facilities will survive; the others will have a hard time. But this may be many years down the road; in the meantime, there is still that urgent push in Vegas forthe new and overwhelming. For millions of Americans Las Vegas, Nevada, has become the ultimate vacation destination.
CONSOLIDATION IN THE GAMBLING CASINO INDUSTRY
The casino gambling business is a maturing industry, and this maturation is reflected in the consolidation of properties into fewer and fewer hands. This is inevitable, and American industry has a long record of huge corporations consolidating, with takeovers the norm. In the banking industry, as an example, many familiar names have disappeared. I've lived in Florida, New York, and California, and have had some relationship with many banks that are no more. In Florida, Barnett Bank and Nations Bank have been taken over; in New York, Dime Savings, Irving Trust, Chemical Bank, and Bank of the Manhattan Company are gone. In California, San Francisco Savings and Loan, Great Western Bank, Security Pacific, and Crocker National are just names now, not living institutions. Readers in other states surely have seen their options removed as mergers and takcovers in this field affect their pocketbooks. In other industries, the floor of corporate America is strewn with these consolidations and takeovers.
It would surprise many readers to know that three gaming corporations control 25 percent of the entire gambling revenues in the United States. These are MGM Mirage, Harrah's, and Caesars. To show this, all we have to do is list the properties they own or control.
MGM MirageMGM Casino, Bellagio, Treasure Island, Mirage, New York, New York, Boardwalk, Primm Valley Resorts, half of Borgata in Atlantic City, and all Mandalay properties.
Caesars (formerly Park Place Entertainment)Caesars Palace, Caesars Indiana, Caesars Atlantic City, Caesars Tahoe, Bally's Casino, Flamingo, Flamingo Laughlin, Grand Casinos of Biloxi and Gulfport, Hilton, Paris, Bally's Casino New Orleans, Bally's Tunica, Grand Casino Tunica, Sheraton Casino and Hotel, and Reno Hilton. It appears that Caesars will be controlled by Harrah's.
Harrah'sHarrah's Las Vegas, Rio, Showboat Atlantic City, and the Harrah's properties in Council Bluffs, East Chicago, Joliet, Lake Charles, L.A., Lake Tahoe, Laughlin, Metropolis, New Orleans, North Kansas City, Reno, St. Louis, and Tunica, and all the Horseshoe properties. The proposed takeover of Caesars would make Harrah's the largest gaming corporation in America.
These three giants are still in the process of gobbling up more properties and gambling venues, and the casinos listed are not set in stone, as expansion continues. There are other powerhouses in the industry, with large positions of their own. For example, Mandalay Resorts, which owned the Luxor, Excalibur, and Circus Circus in both Las Vegas and Reno; Monte Carlo, Silver Legacy Reno, Railroad Pass Henderson, Nevada Landing and Gold Strike, Jean, Nevada; Colorado Belle and Edgewater, Laughlin, Gold Strike, Tunica, Grand Victoria, Elgin, Illinois; and Motor City Casino, Detroit is now owned by MGM Mirage.
Another giant is Boyd Gaming, originally founded by Sam Boyd, whose gambling casino, Sam's Town, was and remains an icon for locals in Las Vegas. They recently announced a merger with Coast Casinos, which operates a number of lucrative casinos in the Las Vegas area. This is a $1.3 billion deal, and Coast Casinos, which operates the Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, The Orleans, and Suncoast, will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Boyd Gaming. Boyd owns several other properties in Las Vegas, such as the California Club and the Stardust. They recently bought Harrah's Shreveport Casino and have a half stake, along with MGM Mirage, in the very successful Borgata in Atlantic City.
In Las Vegas, Station Casinos is well known to local gamblers, whom they cater to. Among the Station properties are Palace Station, Boulder Station, Texas Station, Sunset Station, Santa Fe Station, and their newest, Green Valley Station, in the ever expanding Henderson area, east of Las Vegas. They also own the Fiesta, Wild Wild West, and Barley's, a small but profitable casino in Henderson.
The days of independent casinos are rapidly drawing to a close, though some hang on. The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and Laughlin are independently owned. So is Lady Luck Casino in downtown Las Vegas. A big blow to the maverick casino ownershipcame in 2004, when Becky Behnen, the owner of Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas, was forced to sell out to MTR Gaming and Harrah's, which will manage the casino. The sale was precipitated by liens against the property by the IRS, and a January 2004 raid by U.S. marshals to seize whatever cash was around to satisfy $2 million owed the health and pension funds of the Culinary and Bartenders unions. These were but a few of the debts and unpaid bills amassed through the mismanagement of the casino by Behnen.
I personally have many memories of the Horseshoe. I remember sitting with Benny Binion, the legendary founder of the casino, at his table in the coffee shop, listening to his pals tell stories of the early Texas days. I recall a long conversation with his younger son, Teddy, now gone, in what prosecutors claim was a result of a murder plot. I also recall playing blackjack with Matt Dillon and Harold Becker, the director, sitting at either side, with a mob of movie fans behind us. And many, many games of single-deck blackjack. It's not the same anymore, and the passage of time has washed away the vividness of those memories.
But this is not a section devoted to nostalgia. I wanted to show what is happening in the gaming industry, and how this is a portent of the future. Big and bigger, that's the way things are going, and as consolidations take place, the gambler will have fewer and fewer options available. It is therefore important to know the best rules available and the best strategies to pursue to be a winner.
Copyright © 2005 by Edwin Silberstang
Meet the Author
Edwin Silberstang is considered by many in the gambling industry to be its leading authority. His books have sold millions of copies, and The Winner's Guide to Casino Gambling is the culmination of a lifetime of experience in the field.
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